Illustrated Architecture Dictionary ............ Styles of Architecture

Workers Cottages (1860-1920)

The Worker’s Cottage in Broadway-Fillmore

Excerpted (without footnotes)
from the 
Broadway-Fillmore, Buffalo, NY Intensive Level Historic Resources Survey
By Francis Kowsky

The post-Civil War workers’ cottage is a significant house type because of its wide popularity in American urban and semi-urban areas during the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Additionally, it is important because it should be considered one of the first forms of fully industrialized housing for working-class Americans.

These modest buildings incorporated many of the most advanced technological and planning ideas of its era. Machined components included doors, windows, casings, hardware and decorative detailing, as well as standardized components for wood structural and material finishing systems.

Materials for workers’ cottages were assembled following newly developed construction, merchandising, and distribution systems featuring the following:

(1) standardized, interchangeable components such as nails, studs, and casings which were particularly adapted to the new balloon frame type of structural system;

(2) a national production and distribution for building materials, facilitated by the railroad;

(3) contractor and speculator initiation of the house building process, with minimal owner contribution to the design or construction; and

(4) modern land development practices such as lot standardization, financing, and marketing practices.

Late nineteenth century cottages were typically expanded and transformed in the early twentieth century.

Hubka and Kenny found that expanded cottages in Milwaukee incorporated several new features:

(1) the separation of food preparation and dining activities with the eventual adoption of the dining room; the individualization of sleeping spaces for children, or
separation by sex into bedrooms;

(3) the incorporation of more and larger windows throughout the entire dwelling, and especially in the basement units;

(4) an increased emphasis on plumbing and sanitation facilities, especially the adoption of kitchen plumbing and interior bathrooms for each family unit; and

(5) the conformity of exterior building aesthetics and yard maintenance practices and the elimination of agrarian influenced practices.

Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood

The workers’ cottage is the most widespread house type in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. Cottages were often reformulated into a remodeled Bungalow. For Polish immigrant occupants, largely from an agrarian background, the industrially formulated cottage was “a culturally encoded artifact providing its occupants with embedded suggestions sanctioning both the domestic values of the dominant American culture and fostering an experimental attitude toward change.”

 The transformation of the cottage is an important example and paradigm for understanding the immigrant enculturation process of Polish Americans. As in mid-west cities, workers’ cottages in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood externalized, in architectural form, the hidden complexities of a process that assimilated one immigrant grouping to the mainstream of popular American culture.

The Worker’s Cottage in Black Rock

Excerpted (without footnotes) from the 
218 Dearborn Street, Buffalo, NY, Nomination for Listing on the  State and Federal Registers for Historic Properties
By Annie Schentag

218 Dearborn Street

The house at 218 Dearborn Street is not only a rare example of the worker’s cottage form, but an example of the type of residence that was once typical for the working class families that populated Black Rock. As Black Rock entered the post-Civil War era of industrialization, a swell of immigrant families, particularly German, settled in the neighborhood, finding employment at the nearby waterfront factories and rail industries.   

During this period, it was typical for factory owners to invest in adjacent lands, constructing housing for their workers. Many of these houses would take the form of the modest one-story shotgun cottage.

In Black Rock, several industries promoted and accelerated the development of Worker’s Cottage style residences throughout the neighborhood. For example, the Pratt & Letchworth Company, makers of saddlery hardware, provides just one example of the impact of nearby industries on the settlement patterns of Black Rock during the late 19th century. Their efforts are described in the MPDF as follows.

Perhaps motivated by altruism as well as practicality, Pratt & Letchworth erected for the workers ‘a goodly number of neat and convenient cottages, situated near the Works. In the immediate neighborhood there are two large, free public school buildings, where the children of the men employed have the most favorable advantages for educating their children.’

The workers had the opportunity to purchase the house and lot.

Moreover, the proprietors appear to have attempted to provide the workers a natural outlet to escape the dirt, noise and grime of factory work as “part of the unoccupied land has been planted and converted into a succession of flower gardens, that part nearest the water having, in Summer time, the appearance of a small park; and, lastly, a cozy little reading-room, well warmed, well lighted, and well supplied with newspapers has been opened for their use. A library will shortly be added to it. It would be a good thing if more large employers of labor were as thoughtful.

The social and economic benefits that accompany the Worker’s Cottage style are also reflected in its architectural design.

While it is unknown if the origin of 218 Dearborn Street traces back to Pratt & Letchworth specifically, it is likely that the construction of this residence was the result of a local company’s effort to provide housing close to the place of employment.

Photos and their arrangement 2011 Chuck LaChiusa
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